The covert collection of information about a rival or an ally may concern social, military, industrial or political data and may occur between different countries and ideologies or between rival firms or rival political groups in the same country. Highly sophisticated technological means are often used.
IN 1986 it was estimated that the world's intelligence services collectively employed some 2 million people at a cost of over £18 billion. Following the collapse of the USSR, it is believed that these figures were underestimated.
In the USA in 1990, a record budget of $30 billion was called for classified intelligence, of which more than half the funds would be allocated to intelligence gathering in Eastern Europe despite the moves towards democracy. In 1994 the annual budget for the intelligence community of the USA was reported to be US$28.5 billion of which some US$3 billion went to the CIA and the remainder to military and satellite intelligence. This amount corresponds approximately to federal spending in the USA on education and the environmental issues together. In the same period the former KGB and other East block intelligence services have increased their efforts to obtain Western technology for modernizing the Soviet economy and information about Western intentions.
Increasingly the reasons for spying for a foreign power are financial and revenge rather than ideological. Espionage, if not global due to its high costs, or the lack of interest in some areas, exists both in the North and the South, and is mounted by countries that may be called developed or socialist. Of a peculiar nature unto themselves are systems of espionage orchestrated in the Vatican and by some Protestant sects based in the USA.
In 1993 following the collapse of the USSR, the USA reviewed the possibility of passing information, gathered for traditional purposes of national security, on to private corporations or individuals who could make use of it for their own advantage as economic intelligence. Such information would include the commercial secrets of foreign corporations. In this way companies in the USA would be assisted in their role of combating foreign competition. This initiative is a response to alleged increases in industrial espionage by foreign intelligence organizations.
International institutions such as those of the European Union are obliged to take steps to counter espionage activity because they increasingly deal with certain forms of classified information, such as the security police of member states or information on terrorist threat, where unauthorized disclosure would damage the interests of member states. In 1994 it was expected that of 2,200 senior Eurocrats, 370 would require positive vetting, even though staff regulations already provide for dismissal in the event of violations of security.
Espionage serves a peace-keeping function by letting antagonists know what each is up to. This eliminates guess-work, over-anxiety and over-reaction. In the USA Rosenberg case, where atomic secrets were passed to the former Soviet Union, it was the contention of the defendants that they were serving peace by making nuclear weaponry possible elsewhere than in the USA alone. Some supporters contended that the only other strategic alternative for the Soviets was a preemptive strike against the USA after developing enhanced chemical-biological weapons. In the market place, where intense competition has resulted in industrial espionage, consumers often benefit from 'copying', which affords them lower prices while at the same time it distributes technological advances made but selfishly wished to be retained as proprietary items.